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For the Love of Plywood, or "SAY WHAT!?!??!??!?!?!"

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Blog entry by BobTheFish posted 1085 days ago 1533 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Imagine a material, rich with history. A material fit for the entrances to a pharoah’s tomb. A material the Chinese have made furniture out of for over 1000 years. A material the greatest european empire, the ancient Romans, purportedly used to make their shields lightweight yet strong.

Now imagine I tell you this wonderous substance is plywood. Yes, plywood.

“Now, Bob, yesterday you were telling us of the evils of oak and walnut, and here you are raving about plywood. Have you been hitting the contact cement a bit hard lately?”

“Bob, have you gone and lost your damned mind! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?”

Nope.

Last time I criticized the over usage of walnut and oak (much to the dismay of all you walnut lovers out there, which I must say, I’m shocked how many of you love the walnut but hate the oak! ), and now I’m going to tell you that plywood is FANTASTIC for adding a bit of creativity to your work.

Plywood is, of course, a manufactured wood product made by laminating layers of wood cross grain. This gives it some pretty sweet properties. I, personally love the minimized warping and movement, as it makes an AMAZING substrate for lamination when I work with veneers. (Actually, it’s virtually the only thing I would choose when it comes to lamination, and almost never use solid woods for this reason).

It’s also relatively lightweight for its strength, and strong for it’s light weight, which can make it great for a number of projects. When thickness counts, you can sometimes get away with a NICE piece of plywood where a solid wood might fail along the grain. Conversely, if you’re looking for something fairly strong, but want it lighter weight, 1” plywood will actually give you a fair bit more strength than some other 1” thick boards. And that strength is more uniform throughout the piece.

It’s also fun to play with (and scrollsawers love it too) because it splits far less at its edges and takes to cutting curves like nothing else.

Another great advantage is it’s very standard (large) size and low price. with some creativity, a single $50, 4’x8’x1” sheet can be turned into a dining table. Or a bench. Or two bookcases. Or a pair of accent tables. You can’t do that with solid boards.

It’s also very green. Because the wood is “shaved” off in rolls, rather than cut into boards, very minimal waste is created via cutoffs (really bad in quartersawing and still a problem with flatsawing). That means less wasted wood.

Another great advantage is how easily it can be bent and molded. (as some of our fellow LJs can show )

In fact, rather than go on about plywood, check out a few projects some other LJ’s have done in the past:

Turning:
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/51402
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/51395
Clocks:
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/47044
Tables and countertops:
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/27481
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/25402
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/25392
Used for boxes:
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/20500
and even just as splines:
http://lumberjocks.com/projects/37531

I admit, plywood is a pretty dull and no frills product….

but as you can see, it offers A LOT in ways of creativity.

And that’s what the point to this and the last blog entry: Be creative. Step outside of your usual materials. See what else is available.

Next time: I’ll post something about matching species to projects… If I remember.



8 comments so far

View tyskkvinna's profile

tyskkvinna

1308 posts in 1584 days


#1 posted 1085 days ago

I will have to take photos of the plywood projects I made today. They were pretty exciting.

-- Lis - Michigan - http://www.missmooseart.com - https://www.etsy.com/people/lisbokt

View BobTheFish's profile

BobTheFish

361 posts in 1150 days


#2 posted 1085 days ago

really? more progress on your map table?

I can’t wait. :)

View tyskkvinna's profile

tyskkvinna

1308 posts in 1584 days


#3 posted 1085 days ago

I worked on that (cutting the relief today), but I also made some picture frames out of plywood yesterday. :) They’re pretty.

-- Lis - Michigan - http://www.missmooseart.com - https://www.etsy.com/people/lisbokt

View Bertha's profile

Bertha

12951 posts in 1291 days


#4 posted 1084 days ago

Once again, Bob, we part ways with equal respect. Aside from building skateboard ramps in my youth or jigs in my adult life, I can’t think of anything good to share about plywood in the workshop. Although some turners here have been making some pretty spectacular stuff with it. I used plywood as the back of my plane till and it makes me angry every time I look at it. I’m already considering a veneer and the BLO’s not even dry on the case yet.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Gregn's profile

Gregn

1642 posts in 1581 days


#5 posted 1084 days ago

Plywood is what it is, and comes into consideration when making wood choices for projects. I have made several projects using plywood or incorporating plywood in a project.

My table saw cabinet is constructed from plywood, the rocking horse, the country bench, the apothecary cabinet, the cubby and the pig stool were made from plywood.

I find plywood easy to work with, and gives the stability and strength needed for the service or abuse one might put upon it. Would I use it for all my projects no, but I sure use it in a lot of my projects.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Greg The Cajun Box Sculptor's profile

Greg The Cajun Box Sculptor

4934 posts in 1906 days


#6 posted 1084 days ago

Plywood definitely has its uses. I built my shop storage cabinets and their drawers, my shop air filter cabinets, a set of kitchen cabinet carcasses, the cabinets and extensions for my miter saw, my cutoff bin and quite a few other projects using plywood. years ago I used teak plywood for bulkheads in quite a few sailboats.
Who knows, I might even try building a plywood jewelry box and sculpt it just to see how it comes out.
The bif problem is finding something these days that is not the cheap quality foreign plywood that is filled with voids and always measuring less of a thickness that what it is sold as.
Any plywood I buy for shop projects is baltic birch…it seems the best availabe that I can find locally, but it always seems to come in 5ft x 5ft sheets.

-- Every step of each project is considered my masterpiece because I want the finished product to reflect the quality of my work.

View Don W's profile (online now)

Don W

14632 posts in 1166 days


#7 posted 1084 days ago

I’ve used plywood quite a bit. Its like any other wood, use it where its appropriate. Its stronger and more stable than most solid woods. If you buy cheap grades of pine, plan on waste, if you buy cheap grades of plywood, plan on some fustrations. Put the 2 together and I hope your not making expensive custom furnature.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View BobTheFish's profile

BobTheFish

361 posts in 1150 days


#8 posted 1084 days ago

Lis, I look forward to seeing them! I’m imagining they might look like some bamboo does.

Bertha, I knew I might get some disagreement from you. I’m actually quite pleased you’ve given it a go, and at the very least read my article. I’ll have to ponder a bit in the future to see if I can change your opinion. ;)

Gregn, I agree, not all projects. But, like I said, it can give birth to some creative uses.

Greg, carved boxes sound interesting. Especially with a slight stain to accentuate the grain and differing levels. Depending on how it is carved, and how deep you go, perhaps even the crossgrain can be utilized in a way that makes it resemble some of the tiger striping on some oaks.

Don, all woods have appropriate uses. Since each species is different and have differing strengths, grain weaknesses, etc., each one will fair better at certain projects better than others. It a process to learn what’s good for what. :)

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